The cham dance (Tibetan: འཆམ་, Wylie: 'cham) is a lively masked and costumed dance associated with some sects of Tibetan Buddhism and Buddhist festivals. The dance is accompanied by music played by monks using traditional Tibetan musical instruments. The dances often offer moral instruction relating to karuṇā (compassion) for sentient beings and are held to bring merit to all who perceive them.
Chams are considered a form of meditation and an offering to the gods. The leader of the cham is typically a musician, keeping time using some percussion instrument like cymbals, the one exception being Dramyin Cham, where time is kept using dramyin.
The term "devil dance" was an early 20th century Western description of the performance; its name was derived from the costumes worn by performers.
The origins of chams can be traced back to the ritual dances of the Newar people of the Kathmandu valley. The ritual dance traditions of Pyakha were one of the many influences Kathmandu had brought over to Tibetan art, architecture, and religion.
The great debate of the Council of Lhasa between the two principal debators or dialecticians, Moheyan and Kamalaśīla is narrated and depicted in a specific cham dance once held annually at Kumbum Monastery in Qinghai. One iteration of this dance is performed on the eve of Losar, the Tibetan new year, to commemorate the assassination of the cruel Tibetan king, Langdarma in 841 CE. It is a dance symbolising the victory of good over evil.
In Bhutan, the dances are performed during an annual religious festival known as Tshechu, which is held in each district. The Cham is performed by monks, nuns, and villagers. The Royal Academy of Performing Arts is the main body which promotes the preservation of the culture of Cham and the dances.
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